If you are a regular IAVI Report reader, it will come as no surprise that antibodies, particularly those that are both potent and able to neutralize a broad swath of global HIV isolates, are all the rage. Such antibodies have been isolated in droves from HIV-infected people and are now fueling vaccine design efforts. They are also being improved, combined, and tested for their ability to directly prevent, treat, or even cure HIV infection. Meanwhile, researchers continue to isolate additional antibodies, some of which appear to be able to neutralize even more broadly than any others identified to date.
As a result of this progress, scientists are more optimistic than ever that they are on the path to developing HIV vaccines and antibody-based products. The hope is that vaccines and antibody-based prevention, if successfully developed, could finally curb the persistently high HIV incidence rates that have led the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS to declare that we are in the midst of an HIV prevention crisis.
I’ve actually never seen more optimism for vaccines than at the recent HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) conference in Madrid, Spain. There are now several vaccine candidates in clinical development designed to induce broadly neutralizing antibody responses that several experts at HIVR4P said are most likely to be protective. And nearly a dozen broadly neutralizing antibodies are in development for prophylaxis. In addition, new methods of vaccine delivery, including messenger RNA or mRNA, are in development.
There are also two ongoing efficacy trials that are testing vaccine candidates that induce antibodies, which although not broadly neutralizing may still be effective at blocking HIV infection. Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson is leading one of these efficacy trials, and I recently spoke with Paul Stoffels, vice chair of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at J&J, about this trial and his company’s dedication to HIV treatment and prevention research.
With all this activity, it is hard not to share in the enthusiasm that is apparent in the HIV prevention field today. We hope you will too.
—Kristen Jill Kresge